Thursday, May 17, 2012


With encroachment from settlers and speculators, and after a devastating war against Shining Path rebels a decade ago, the indigenous Ashaninkas’ hold is precarious. And they are now facing a new peril, the proposed 2,200-megawatt Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam, which would flood much of the Ene River valley.

The project is part of a proposal for as many as five dams that under a 2010 energy agreement would generate more than 6,500 megawatts, primarily for export to neighboring Brazil. The dams would displace thousands of people in the process.

Antonio Metzoquiari, 59, a thin man wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, considered the implications for his community. “This is a grave matter,” Mr. Metzoquiari said. “It’s a return to violence, another war. I don’t know where or how, but we would have to find a new place to live.”

At a time when hydroelectric dams have fallen out of favor in some parts of the world, the projects might seem an anachronism. But dams remain attractive in much of Latin America, where a number of nations have plenty of water but lack other conventional and affordable energy sources.


Officials with the Energy and Mining Ministry say the dams make economic sense only if much of the energy they produce is exported. The ministry added that while it considered environmental and social issues important, it also wanted to make sure that affected local populations benefit from the projects through electrification.

Despite claims that the welfare of affected communities is a top priority, several of the projects passed feasibility studies before local residents were even informed that the government had awarded concessions on the land. In response to that disclosure, the Central Asháninka del Rio Ene, which represents Ashaninka populations in the Ene River Valley, went to court to compel the Energy and Mining Ministry to disclose all feasibility studies on the dam proposals.


When the scope of the dam project was made clear to the Ashaninka, many expressed disbelief while others worried that an exodus would lead to infighting over diminished resources. The final speaker, Dimer Dominguito, 25, who was accompanied by his wife and five children, captured the Ashaninka’s desperation and outrage.

“In the city they make money and buy whatever they need, but here we live by our customs, our market, eating what we plant and we are happy,” he said. “We want to defend our right to what is natural, to defend our market, and we support the government, but who supports us?”

Our oceans are under attack and it's time we started paying attention:
With an ever-accelerating tide of human impact, the oceans have changed more in the last 30 years than in all of human history before. In most places, the seas have lost upwards of 75 percent of their megafauna—large animals such as whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, and turtles—as fishing and hunting spread in waves across the face of the planet. For some species, like whitetip sharks, American sawfish, or the once “common” skate, numbers are down as much as 99 percent. By the end of the 20th century, almost nowhere shallower than 3,000 feet remained untouched by commercial fishing. Some places are now fished down to 10,000 feet.


With the sole exception of Alaskan salmon, which have been well managed, and rockfish or striped bass, which have experienced a resurgence thanks to the careful shepherding of their fisheries, most of the species we like to eat have plummeted since their historic highs. Puget Sound’s salmon runs have dwindled to a trickle. Red snapper, bluefish, and menhaden are all overfished in U.S. waters today, while grouper and capelin are far below their 19th-century numbers. In 2010, a quarter of commercial fish stocks assessed in the U.S. were considered overfished, meaning that they lie below target levels, themselves far below historic highs. But this misses the real scale of the problem. Overfishing is only one small piece in a much larger puzzle of interacting impacts.

We pump chemical and industrial pollutants into our rivers and oceans, heedless of consequences, and our unplanned experiment with greenhouse gases is gradually infiltrating the deep sea, changing ocean chemistry, impacting temperatures and oxygen levels, and shifting patterns of underwater currents with dramatic consequences. The path we are on today is pushing ocean ecosystems to the edge of their viability. Few people yet grasp the gravity of the predicament.


We are living on borrowed time. We can’t cheat nature by taking more than is produced indefinitely, no matter how fervently politicians or captains of industry might wish it. In essence, what we have done in the last few decades is to mine fish, bringing them in at rates faster than they can replace themselves. Sharks, bluefin tuna, cod, Chilean sea bass, all have declined steeply as a result of excessive fishing. The price that must be paid for today’s rapaciousness will be tomorrow’s scarcity, or in some places, seas without fish. If we follow our current trajectory, that point may be only 40 or 50 years away.


People often ask me, “What can I do to help?” One place to start is to avoid eating fish that are overexploited in the wild or taken using methods that harm other wildlife. Try to avoid prawns or scallops and other bottom feeders fished up by dredgers and trawlers, such as plaice, cod, and hake. Eat low in the food web, so favor smaller fish like anchovies, herring, and sardines over big predators like Chilean sea bass, swordfish, and large tunas (you will be doing yourself a favor, as these predators also concentrate more toxins). If you can’t give up tuna, choose pole- and line-caught animals, which have virtually zero bycatch. (“Dolphin friendly” versions alone may not be very dolphin friendly, since tuna are often caught with purse seines, walls of net that surround and stress dolphins and snare sharks, turtles, and other wildlife.) Farm-raised fish and prawns often come at a high environmental cost in destroyed habitat and wild fish turned into feed. Vegetarian fish like tilapia and carp are better than predators like salmon and sea bass. Organic is better too, since your fish will have been dosed with fewer chemicals.

If we carry on with business as usual, humanity has a bleak and uncertain future. More fertilizer and sewage input into the oceans would increase the frequency of harmful algal blooms, intensify oxygen depletion, create more dead zones, and set the stage for the jellyfish ascendancy. The spread of aquaculture will eat away at natural habitats and aggravate problems of nutrient enrichment. More intense agriculture on degrading soils will flush extra mud into coastal waters, which would destroy sensitive habitats constructed by invertebrates like corals. Sea-level rises will lead to more sea walls and other defenses in a process of coastal hardening that will squeeze out productive habitats like mud flat and marsh. With the disappearance of these vital nurseries, wild fisheries will suffer, and there will be fewer feeding grounds for migratory birds. And if we remain wedded to all the comforts that modern technology can give us, and remain as wasteful as we are today, the oceans will continue to accumulate toxic contaminants.
Tom Philpott uses Roberts' piece to discuss the larger, systemic threats to our oceans:
But he makes an even more important point that I fear often gets lost amid the fishery labels and the "avoid" and "recommended" lists (as important as those things are): The oceans represent contain highly complex ecosystems that are intimately related to their terrestrial counterparts in ways that transcend fishing trends. Overfishing is "only one small piece in a much larger puzzle of interacting impacts," Roberts writes. To put it in another way, consumer choices about which sea creatures to devour and which to shun, while important, only exert so much influence over the fate of the oceans.In ecosystem terms, there's no clean line between "land" and "ocean." The two are intertwined; foul one and you foul the other. It turns out the human addiction to fossil fuel may be even more devastating to the seas than our appetite for big top-feeding fish like tuna, or our insane habit of hoovering up of "forage" fish like sardines as feed for industrial salmon farms.


Meat from large, long-living fish like tuna is riddled with toxic heavy metals because of mercury emissions from land-based coal-burning power plants. Our mercury-laced coal waste seeps into the oceans, gets taken up by phytoplankton, and then bioaccumulates as it moves up the food chain and onto our plates—where it represents a significant neurological risk to developing fetuses and young children.

And the practice of pillaging wild stocks of small forage fish like sardines and anchovies, which I mentioned above, isn't just about feeding our appetite for cheap farmed salmon or omega-3 fatty acid supplements. It's also driven in large part by our hunger for cheap pork and chicken. According to a 2011 Oceana report, as much as a third of the entire annual global fish catch represents forage fish snatched away to be converted into fish meal—and nearly half of that fish meal ends up as feed in our land-based factory farms. Forage fish are a key component of the oceanic food web—they convert plankton into ready food for the bigger species that feed on them. We're removing them from the ocean at unsustainable rates.

All of this is to say that we shape the fate of the oceans in ways that go far beyond whether we choose a "best choice" or an "avoid" species at the fishmonger. At this point, how we choose to live here on terra firma—from our transportation and energy systems to our land-based food habits—will largely determine whether the oceans contain resilient ecosystems that produce glorious food for us, as they have for nearly all of human history, or vulnerable ones prone to collapse.

Barack Obama can barely bring himself to say the word "poor." And Mitt Romney was famously dismissive about even the deepest concentrations of poverty. “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” he said. “We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.” He later described his comment as a “misstatement.”

Fifty million Americans are poor and another 50 million have been characterized as “near poor,” which means they can feel the awful flames of poverty licking at their heels. That’s almost a third of the entire U.S. population. You’d think, in that context, it would be disconcerting to see the president yukking it up at the White House correspondents dinner with the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, Kate Hudson and George Clooney in the audience, and later raking in the dough at a $40,000-a-plate fundraiser at Clooney’s home in Los Angeles.

But that’s standard procedure in a country that has given up on its great promise of upward mobility and widely-shared prosperity. The Obama and Romney camps are planning to spend a billion dollars each, a truly obscene amount, in their fight for the presidency of a nation that is now unabashedly of, by, and for the rich.

Poor kids don’t stand a chance in this land of the plutocrats.
And at the same time, TED thinks talks about income inequality are too partisan and “out and out political.” Do they not realize that refusing to discuss the problem of inequality is also an out and out political decision? Well, I suppose when only one of the two parties is concerned with inequality, mentioning the very topic is, in and of itself, partisan by default? In case you have the stomach to handle such terrible class warfare talk, Hanauer's talk is posted at the National Journal site:
I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.

That's why I can say with confidence that rich people don't create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a "circle of life" like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it's a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it's the other way around.

Anyone who's ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn't just inaccurate, it's disingenuous.

That's why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

Since 1980 the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.

If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs. And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.


We've had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don't create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an eco-systemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That's why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.

So here's an idea worth spreading.

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class. And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.

Obama's response to JPMorgan was pathetically inadequate, says Robert Reich:
“JP Morgan is one of the best-managed banks there is. Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we got and they still lost $2 billion,” the President said on the television show “The View,” which aired Tuesday, suggesting that a weaker bank might not have survived.

That was it.

Not a word about Jamie Dimon’s tireless campaign to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill; his loud and repeated charge that the Street’s near meltdown in 2008 didn’t warrant more financial regulation; his leadership of Wall Street’s brazen lobbying campaign to delay the Volcker Rule under Dodd-Frank, which is still delayed; and his efforts to make that rule meaningless by widening a loophole allowing banks to use commercial deposits to “hedge” (that is, make offsetting bets) their derivative trades.

Nor any mention Dimon’s outrageous flaunting of Dodd-Frank and of the Volcker Rule by setting up a special division in the bank to make huge (and hugely profitable, when the bets paid off) derivative trades disguised as hedges.

Nor Dimon’s dual role as both chairman and CEO of JPMorgan (frowned on my experts in corporate governance) for which he collected a whopping $23 million this year, and $23 million in 2010 and 2011 in addition to a $17 million bonus.

Even if Obama didn’t want to criticize Dimon, at the very least he could have used the occasion to come out squarely in favor of tougher financial regulation. It’s the perfect time for him to call for resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act, of which the Volcker Rule – with its giant loophole for hedges — is a pale and inadequate substitute.

And for breaking up the biggest banks and setting a cap on their size, as the Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve recommended several weeks ago.

Wall Street’s biggest banks were too big to fail before the bailout. Now, led by JP Morgan Chase, they’re even bigger. Twenty years ago, the 10 largest banks on the Street held 10 percent of America’s total bank assets. Now they hold over 70 percent.
And on Marketplace, Reich goes one step further by saying the Volcker Rule is not enough, it's time for a new Glass-Steagall Act:
Now, with JPMorgan's announcement that it lost at least $2 billion, we're right back to where we were before the 2008 crisis with the same kind of -- to quote CEO Jamie Dimon -- risky, poorly-monitored, and poorly-executed trades that caused the crisis in the first place.

Dimon's promise that JPMorgan will "fix it and move on" is not reassuring. Because we now know something we should have known all along -- that any big bank on Wall Street can still make big, risky bets with commercial deposits. And will do so unless barred from doing it because there's so much money to be made when the big bets go right.

Let's stop hoping Wall Street will mend itself. And stop pretending the Volcker Rule, with its giant loophole, will be adequate to separate the casino of investment banking from commercial banking's necessary role of taking in saving and lending them out.

We need Glass-Steagall back.

It's time for doctors to speak up against the War On Women:
The unspoken assumption by state legislators seems to be that doctors will, of course, acquiesce with these new laws, that they are simply neutral agents who will comply with whatever the state orders. Physicians, however, have ethical commitments to patients that they cannot and should not be required by state law to set aside.

Prominent among them is the responsibility to place the welfare of their patients above all other considerations. In light of this, requiring doctors to perform procedures that are not medically indicated, or to provide false information about medical evidence, doesn't just violate women's rights. It also leaves doctors with an untenable dilemma: Violate state law, or betray their professional obligations to patients.

Physicians, both as individuals and as a profession, should stand with their patients. They should make it clear that they will not perform procedures, such as ultrasound examinations, unless they are medically indicated and desired by their patients. And they should refuse to provide inaccurate information about the consequences of abortion, or to follow any other prepared script in counseling their patients, particularly when it involves treating women like children.

Such acts of civil disobedience by individual doctors should be only the starting point. The profession as a whole, as represented by its professional organizations, needs to become involved, so that physicians are not left to fend for themselves.

It is time for the American Medical Association and, particularly, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to take a public position on behalf of the patients they are pledged to serve, and to support their members in doing so.

You know, it's really been far too long since we went to war in central America, so it's probably as good a time as any to start one now — but let's use paramilitarized troops that aren't a part of the military, because somehow that's different:
Drug Enforcement Administration agents accompanied the Honduran counternarcotics police during two firefights with cocaine smugglers in the jungles of the Central American country this month, according to officials in both countries who were briefed on the matter. One of the fights, which occurred last week, left as many as four people dead and has set off a backlash against the American presence there.

It remains unclear whether the D.E.A. agents took part in the shooting during either episode, the first in the early hours of May 6 and the second early last Friday. In an initial account of the second episode, the Honduran government told local reporters that two drug traffickers had been killed and a large shipment of cocaine seized; he did not mention any American involvement. Several American officials said the D.E.A. agents did not return fire during the encounter.

But this week, a local mayor and a Honduran lawmaker said that four innocent bystanders had been killed and called for an investigation into what the Honduran news media are now portraying as a botched D.E.A. operation.


The FAST teams were created in 2005 to help Afghan forces go after drug traffickers in the war zone who were helping to finance the Taliban. Most of them were military veterans and received Special Operations-style training from the military. The D.E.A. had a similar program during the 1980s and early 1990s in which agents worked alongside Latin American police and military officials to go after jungle labs and smuggling planes. That program was ended early in the Clinton administration after complaints that it was not having enough of an impact to justify its risks.

Because they are considered law enforcement agents, not soldiers, their presence on another country’s soil may raise fewer sensitivities about sovereignty. The American military personnel deployed in Honduras, for example, are barred from responding with force even if Honduran or D.E.A. agents are in danger. But if their Honduran counterparts come under fire, FAST teams may shoot back. For similar reasons, the helicopters are part of a State Department counternarcotics program — and not military.

It's time to end the gruesome, barbaric and unjust practice of state-sanctioned murder:
A few years ago, Antonin Scalia, one of the nine justices on the US supreme court, made a bold statement. There has not been, he said, "a single case – not one – in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred … the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops."

Scalia may have to eat his words. It is now clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit, and his name – Carlos DeLuna – is being shouted from the rooftops of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. The august journal has cleared its entire spring edition, doubling its normal size to 436 pages, to carry an extraordinary investigation by a Columbia law school professor and his students.

The book sets out in precise and shocking detail how an innocent man was sent to his death on 8 December 1989, courtesy of the state of Texas. Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, is based on six years of intensive detective work by Professor James Liebman and 12 students.

Starting in 2004, they meticulously chased down every possible lead in the case, interviewing more than 100 witnesses, perusing about 900 pieces of source material and poring over crime scene photographs and legal documents that, when stacked, stand over 10ft high.

What they discovered stunned even Liebman, who, as an expert in America's use of capital punishment, was well versed in its flaws. "It was a house of cards. We found that everything that could go wrong did go wrong," he says.

The environmental burden of overconsumption. (.pdf here.)

Green labels and unsustainable practices.

Declining biodiversity in the Tropics.

The world's oceans are under attack.

Hatchery salmon may wreak ecological havoc.

Sound in the city.

Richard Florida, not generally one to be especially critical, on the limits to density.

Clean energy as culture war.

Iron smelting reliant on Amazonian deforestation, and American companies benefit.

Peruvian coffee farmers enter the carbon trading market.

Species interactions, ecosystems, and evolution.

The long battle to save the menhaden, and possibly much of the Atlantic's fisheries.

Economic growth and happiness in China.

Tracking CO2 emissions.

Bikeable cities.

Ensuring transit is accessible to the elderly and disabled.

On respectfully dealing and engaging with the anti-Agenda 21 Tea Partiers.

Is fracking making people ill? Hopes that medical records may help answer part of that question. But limited concrete evidence so far.

The War On Women is also a war on democracy, as Repubs try to impose abortion restrictions on DC that the people of DC don't want.

The just-passed House VAWA reauthorization is a joke.

After many disappointing rulings regarding the War on Terror, some encouraging signs.

Deadspin's take on the crazy anti-Semitic cultists who refused to play baseball against a girl.

Eduardo Saverin is a greedy, exploitative dick.

Alabama's racist disgrace.

Justin Erik Halldor Smith on the infantilization of natural history museums.

Degenerative brain disorders in soldiers.

The prevalence of asthma is at an all-time high.

[E]ven with these sorts of short term changes — if your body gets only a brief break from the chronic burden of air pollution exposure — it can still do some good for your health overall.

Colonoscopies without drinking that godawful prep? Nice.

Being active extends life in cancer survivors.

Phantom Menace in 3-D, while on acid.

The illusion of the year.

Straight, white, male — and privileged. In gamer terms.

Is this feminist?

Political cartoons in India. (h/t Wifey)

BritLit map.

Eno on the importance of place. (h/t Wifey)

Tom Waits narrates a short documentary on John Baldessari:

El-P plus Nick from Islands on Letterman:
(Speaking of Nick from Islands, he signed three CDs that could be yours if you enter this raffle to raise money for my on-going treatment. Really, with barely any entries so far, buy just one raffle ticket and you'd have a 50-50 chance of winning. No foolin'.)

Heather's Happy Link of the Day: The Round Mound of Rebound and The Big Aristotle have a shirt(less)-off.

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